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středa 28. dubna 2010

Oliver in Royal Albert Hall: A Sentimental Diary of the Fan Who Drove - Part II.

“Dear Blanka,” I read in an email early next morning (Ah! Love it when someone actually does not misspell my name and writes it with the bloody correct “K” in the middle. Slavic linguistic coherence, obviously. Traalalaah.) “I’ll be at Royal Albert Hall all day, here’s my mobile – ring me up. Nikola.”

At 2 pm, I arrived to the Hall, excited, thankful to heavens for sending me a kind Ictinus Grupa manager who’ll get me Oliver’s signature, that I’ll be able to show to my friends in Pelješac in the summer and pretend, that I of course got it myself, while having a nice little chat about modern jazz & co. with the icon of Croatian music. 
But kind Ictinus Grupa manager didn’t answer the phone. I wrote him a text and waited by the box office, watching importantly looking maintenance people slide their staff-cards through the security  door and disappear inside the hall.  Suddenly, I heard it. Kad je nebo meni dalo tren, reklo mi je idi, bit ces njen… Meters away from me, Oliver and his band were rehearsing. U srcu san te nosija, otkad san sa rodija… This was the echo of last summer, distant, yet temptingly accessible. How much I wished I could see bare one minute of this! Ah.. Da niiisam ja zaaa teee
Another maintenance guy suddenly walked out of the security door and rushed away. The door was now closing, silently and very slowly. In two fast leaps, I was by the door, I stuck my foot in it and sneaked inside. Živote moooj…Volume up!
It was miraculous. The diffused velvety light of empty Royal Albert Hall made Oliver by the piano look like a wizard, mixing potions of scales and keys and sending them into outer space, to charm, to soothe, to inspire. I stayed there, static, behind the curtain in one of the stalls, letting my soul be hit by the inexplicable spell. I saw the shores of Mljet again and fishing and bottles of Plavac and…Did I really wish to have anyone at all by my side in this very moment? Can’t say I did. This was mine – my private, secret beautiful concert, consisting of one song only, my favourite.
I would have nearly applauded when the song was over. Instead, I heard a hasty mixture of “bravos” and “u redu” and “pa, sad idemo pušit, ili šta?” Oliver disappeared. As did everyone else. Lights went out for the pause, so I unwrapped myself from the curtain and headed back to the door. Only the door was now firmly shut and there was no maintenance guy with a staff card to kindly release me.
I started circling around Royal Albert Hall, all alone, imagining, that I’ll probably have to stay here until the concert starts. Luckily, I ran into a stairwell leading me backstage, right in front of a door marked “Production Unit”. God knows why - I knocked.
“Excuse me,” I said casually, “I was just looking for Nikola.”
“You must be Blanka, then,” trilled a young man from behind the desk. Blimey! “Was just about to text you back. So - did you bring your CDs to be signed?”
My mind went blank for an instant. Of course! – Of course I brought my one and only scratched Oliver CD with me: I brought it all the way to Calais. And I left it there, in the car!!
“No, I haven’t,” I replied dryly, not even daring to wonder, what does this apparently normal and nice person think when confronted with all sorts of freaky fans.

“Doesn’t matter,” Nikola replied. “Let’s go catch up with Oliver outside. He’s probably having a smoke.”
Ah! Ah! – Blood streamed into my head. Gosh! Help! Hoorray! How’s my hair? Where’s all my Croatian vocabulary?!
Oliver was outside, surrounded by a modest crowd of people, rather family and friends than fans. He looked like somebody’s uncle, chatting, enjoying sunshine and a smoke, relaxed and happy about the concert tonight, but already homesick for his summer house, his fishing, his secluded peace in Dalmatia.
“Olivere, izvini,” – said Nikola. “This lady came to see you all the way from Prague.”
Oliver raised his eyebrows. “How?”
“By car,”  I said. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dragojević.”
“It’s Oliver.”
I got included in a multi-genre chat on weather, music, Icelandic volcanoes, bus trips from Zagreb, sound-checks in Royal Albert Hall, and – oh, yes – sunsets above Korčula and Mljet and Lastovo.
“See you there in the summer,” Oliver said. “Come over for a coffee in Vela Luka.”
We had a picture taken and I took off, floating on a blushed cloud of excitement.
And the evening was yet to come.
In the afternoon, I strolled both Virgin as well as HMW, trying to find one single Oliver CD. No success.
“How do you explain this?” – I said, irritated, to a poor customers’ assistant at Virgin. “You sell CDs of local alternative kids who have performed once in their life at a damp cellar in Tooting and were coincidentally not out of tune, while you don’t have anything by a man who happens to sell out Royal Albert Hall?”
The assistant was shaken. She apologized, noted down Oliver’s name and called her superior. Superior apologized, too, and blamed the Supply Section. She called a colleague from Marketing and created an ad hoc ladies’ summit on Oliver Dragojević. I let them all listen to a few bars of Cesarica from my ipod. The surrender was immediate. “Arghhaghargh…Theat’s sooeo swweaet!” said one of them. They promised they’d make Virgin order boxes of his CDs by tomorrow. “That’ll be great,” I said. “But too late for me, I am afraid. I wanted to have the CD signed – and Oliver’s concert starts in about three hours from now.”
“Gosh! Can we still get tickets?” – the three girls howled in unison behind me as I was leaving.
It was just in time to run to Snappy Snaps and have my picture with Oliver printed. Who knows? If I still run into him, I might get at least a signature over the photo.
With a glass of champagne, skilfully smuggled outside, I sat in the sun in front of the huge Royal Albert Hall. I would have tried texting Nikola and perhaps asked him for letting my photo be signed, but in line with the logic of the whole trip, my phone was nearly out of battery, switched off. I was watching the little excited crowds of people, progressing towards the gates, diplomatic cars stopping and releasing important people dressed like for a funeral, and a few relaxed smokers just by the stage entrance. One of them, a Beethoven’s profile of grown dark hair, was dressed in a black worn-out shirt and pants. Probably one of the stage crew, - I thought. I’m sure he’ll know about Nikola’s whereabouts.
“Excuse me,” – I approached him, “Are you part of the concert?”
“Sort of,” he said.
“What instrument do you play?” I joked.
“Nothing, really,” he replied. “Not tonight.”
He’s probably a sound assistant, - I thought. Or maybe he turns the pages.
“I’ve been wondering if Nikola was around,” I said.
“I think he’s inside,” I heard from behind my back. “But he’s busy. Can I help?”
I turned around and froze to the ground: It was Oliver, nonchalantly lighting his cigarette. “You should go in, by the way,” he winked at me. “The thing starts in ten minutes.”
“Maybe you should go in, too, then,” I smiled. Oliver nodded slowly and narrowed his eyes, silently assuring me that he indeed does know about time and rhythm. Polahko. I took out my photo and asked for his signature. “You must think that I am a boomerang, returning like this and chasing you, but I swear I don’t,” I said. “Not sure about that,” said Oliver, raising his left eyebrow. “You really came all the way just by yourself?”
“Well. Yes.”
“Can you believe that?” Oliver turned to his crew. “She drove from Prague, alone, for our gig.”
The sound assistant made a comic bow.
A gratifying memory of Mr. Gorgeous flashed through my mind. There we go. If he didn’t act like a total idiot, so that I had no choice but to break up with him, he could have now been here with me and have a casual chat with his musical idol. Huh. Deservedly not so!
“Hajde, idemo,” the sound assistant finished his cigarette and turned towards the door.
“Good luck,” I said.
“Enjoy,” said Oliver.
My seat was meters away from the stage, on a platform overlooking the set from above. Lovers, holding hands, kissing and leaning eagerly towards each other, surrounded me from all sides. A good setting to start drowning in self-pity.
There were quite a lot of empty seats, I noticed, and instantly worried, what effect will it have on Oliver and the musicians when they see that a sold out hall is not packed as they are used to. The orchestra marched in. Applause. While the violinists sat down, the sound assistant appeared on stage. Huh. So maybe he does turn the pages after all. Applause significantly intensified. Sound assistant bowed and turned towards the orchestra.
He was the conductor.
Did I just ask this guy whether he played any music?!
Oliver finally walked in, not at all like a star – not like this was the Royal Albert Hall, but casual, relaxed and beaming, as if he just stepped out of his house in Korčula on a sunny morning and was about to sing a song for the five people sitting there on the bench by the sea. Dobro jutro tugo… It was obvious that even if there were only ten people here right now, it would not make a difference to his manner, the joy he finds in music and in forwarding it to whoever is willing to listen.
The opening was great. And from then on, it only got better. Oliver chatted with the audience through the microphone, joking around in between songs, exchanging winks with the conductor and giving out his best with ease and pleasure, despite Icelandic ash cloud and the 24 hours bus trip. It seemed that being on stage had a rejuvenating effect on him: by the time he got to Skalinada, he was twenty five. As well as the conductor. There, in fact, was a whole bunch of young musicians on stage with them – many players in the orchestra, Oliver’s chorus and a remarkably young and gifted cello player were clearly under thirty, and one would have expected that the young artists would look up to the older ones in a little bit of a stiff respect, but the chemistry was the exact opposite: it was the experienced performers who looked up and cheered for their younger counterparts on stage.
I didn’t want to, but I’ve been skimming the audience every once in a while, making sure that the man who got me into all this at the first place was really not out there. Not that I’d care anymore, obviously. Not at all. But, well…

Oh, God. How much I wished him to suddenly turn up, kick out the odd looking guy on my left and say – excuse me, but this, in fact, is my place.
I watched the conductor. He was dancing around his modest orchestra like a ballet choreographer, up on his toes, leaning into every bar and kind of overreacting at the peaks of the phrases. Strange, - I thought. If there was anything like vibes of greatness in the aura of famous composers and artists, I was sure that this guy was surrounded by them like by an intense bubble that was lifting him from the ground and made him float around the stage in slow-motion leaps and turns. In a sharp contrast to how unnoticeable he appeared off-stage, there was something demonic and absolute about him now, as if under the easygoing circumstances of a pop concert he had to suppress, how much more serious, painful, inevitable and even tragic music could be for him on other occasions. He’d make a good rock star or opera conductor, - I thought, but I bet he is like one of these pop music conductors back in Prague who look up with envy to the big orchestras and famous musicians they once wished to become.
As Magdalena filled Royal Albert Hall, I was suddenly back on my way from Pelješac to Split again, remembering the tears pouring down my cheeks. Sve njezne rijeci svijeta sacuvao sam za te u pjesmama mojim… The heavy walls of this proud building could melt down, if this went on. Sve njezne rijeci svijeta da tebe meni vrate, moja ceznjo davna… And yet, such a simple, innocent tune – such obvious lyrics, such triviality and ease…What was the secret of this music? – I wondered. Moja patnja, moja tajna, moja ljubav... Maybe it was the plain sympathy with the collective awareness of love being the best and the cruellest thing in the world, often simultaneously, having unprecedented authority and influence over our lives and eagerly throwing us from the peaks of excitement and joy into being totally desperate and alone.
And – yes - carrying the burden of love is certainly easier if one listens to Oliver than if one doesn't, - I concluded. That must be it.
Intermission saved me from crying, Live, into the TV cameras that were broadcasting the concert.
With a glass of wine in my hand, I was following my footprints from earlier today, when I wondered around here, alone and locked up. There were hundreds of people now, all taken and excited, everyone knowing at least one other person in the audience. Yes, I could live with the feeling that I in fact know Oliver Dragojević and even have his signed photo right here in my handbag – hee, hee! - but for the purposes of a friendly chat during the break, this was a rather impractical relationship.
I walked outside and nearly fell over one of the guys, who accompanied the conductor, disguised as sound technician before.
“Likin' the show so far?” he blew out the smoke.
“It is miraculous,” I said.
“So you don't regret to have come all the way from Prague?”
“Would you perhaps like to join us for the party?”
“Which party?”
“The after-party.”
“Could I?”
“My name's Ante. Find me here after the concert.”
“I'm Blanka.”
“Like Blanka Vlašić?” he smiled.
I nodded. “Exactly like her. Only ten inches shorter.”
Ante waved and disappeared inside the Hall.
A black gospel chorus in bright white outfits walked onto the stage.  Oliver was excited like a child. The concert at Royal Albert Hall has had the log-line of “Oliver's greatest dream coming true”, but singing a duet with a charming young black lady, whose beautifully coloured and crackled voice could sell out any club in New Orleans, must have topped his expectation. It showed. She was gorgeous. Oliver was in love with her, for the short three minutes of the song, when their voices met in the space to seduce each other, to make love on sound waves, while the conductor and others diminished into subtlety, like empathic conspirators of a secret affair.
The beauty these people were capable of expressing would have made me forget – forget about my broken heart, my lonely travels, all the painful effort, so wrongly aimed at overcoming memories. But the next songs were all of the sort that inevitably stirred my emotions up again. In a surreal flashy sequence, standing up, I sang along together with the entire hall - Tko sam ja da te sudim, Galeb i ja, Moj lipi andjele, to make it all the way up to Nisam ja za te.
Kad je nebo meni dalo tren...
Some people were taking out their mobile phones, to broadcast at least a minute of the concert over to their families and friends.
U srcu san te nosija..
I wished I had someone to call, too. Someone, who'd appreciate the moment in the same way. But I knew that the idea which has just occurred in my head was pathetic and stupid and I swear to god that if I choose to really do that, I'll hate myself for the rest of my life.
I took the mobile out of my handbag and switched it on.
Otkad san se rodija
I scrolled down the list of names.

Prvi put kad san je vidija ja…

I stopped by his number and was about to hit the dial button.
Drugi put, kad je otisla...
Suddenly, the mobile in my hand vibrated. I looked at the display and froze in shock: it was him. Mr. Gorgeous was calling me.

Živote moj…

I answered.
“I just saw you in the TV,” he said. “You look fantastic.”
“It's our song,” I whispered. “Can you hear it?”
“Kad te danas vidim da si s njim...” he sang along through the phone. His voice had kept its disarming softness and authority, and was crushing me once again. “Who did you go with? The guy next to you? Or Oliver?” He said that with a triumphant irony in his voice, illustrating his certainty I came alone.
I nebo je pogrisilo, od mene te odvelo..
I panicked. What happens if I say yes? And what would it look like if I tell the truth about having travelled alone all the way, to end up hearing his voice over the phone? I looked at the stage.
“Yes,” I said. It came out of my mouth with spontaneity and confidence. “I'm here with Oliver.”
Da nisam ja za te...
Oliver glanced to the right, like Gioconda,  who always seems to be looking straight at you from whatever corner of the room.
I would bet that he did look right at me, though, and there was a reassuring smile in his eyes.
The past two days, compressed, flashed through my mind. People I met. Places I saw. Music I heard. The unique moments of intimacy and virtuosity I witnessed here in the past couple of hours. What did it matter that I was all by myself? Heck - wasn't I having the time of my life?
“I see,” I heard from the phone. “Well, good for you.” The irony of his voice eroded a little.
“I know,” I said. “I know.” He was still trying to say something, while the display of my phone announced Battery empty, and the phone died. 

Dvaput san umra, umra za njom…

I dissolved in the final echoes of the music.
It was not our song anymore.
It was my song.
As Oliver unrolled his jazzy piano solo, course Cesarica, I felt as if I finally dumped the stone that was pulling me down to the bottom of the sea, and started to swim up again, seeing a sailboat on the surface and realizing that its sail is, in fact, the deck of a shiny black piano, floating above the sea of people, humming and moving in unison like waves.
Da je baci nazad u more...
I heard seagulls on the red horizon beyond Mljet.
It's soon going to be the summer.
Life will be great again.
As it is great already.
Oliver bowed.
Thank you.

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